Israel Authorizes Record Amount of West Bank Land for Settlement Construction

Most of the newly confirmed state land is in areas of strategic importance for settlers, including outposts that could join up with nearby settlements.

Michal Fattal

A record amount of land – slightly more than half of it outside the West Bank separation barrier – was confirmed as state land last year, a critical step toward handing over the land to settlements so that more homes can be built on it.

The 28,000 dunams (6,919 acres) were approved by the Civil Administration’s task force for demarcating state land, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the government coordinator in the territories, told a Knesset subcommittee this week. The so-called Blue Line task force, established by the Civil Administration in 1999, is reexamining land designated imprecisely during the 1980s as belonging to the state.

Most of the newly confirmed state land is in areas of strategic importance for settlers, including outposts that could join up with nearby settlements and areas close to the Green Line that could potentially link up with towns in Israel. The largest plot of land is 3,476 dunams near the West Bank settlement of Ariel, while 2,302 dunams were claimed by the state in the southern Hebron Hills.

The land reclamation indicates that Israel is not interested in negotiations, said Dror Etkes, who works with Rabbis for Human Rights to track Israeli settlement policy.

“Anyone examining the places where territory was added to the land under settlement jurisdiction, and [examining] the work of the Blue Line team from early 2013 until today, is forced to conclude that from the perspective of the Israeli government, there is no Oslo, no fence, no negotiations,” said Etkes, referring to the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.

“This can be seen both in terms of the size of the land and the location of the places where the mapping was done. The approach guiding the Civil Administration is that all of Area C is designated for the expansion of Israeli settlements, as has indeed been happening in the field over the past 20 years.” Area C is the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control.

In the nine months when Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were officially under way, the Netanyahu government advanced the construction of at least 13,850 new housing units in the West Bank by moving forward with construction plans and publishing tenders, Peace Now said in a report. During that time, construction was planned throughout the West Bank, including in isolated settlements, and two new outposts were built – one in the Jordan Valley and one south of Bethlehem.

Of the 28,000 dunams confirmed as state land, 22,058 are within settlement boundaries and could potentially become sites of planned construction. More than 3,700 dunams are on land that has already been developed, meaning that their designation as state land is meant to retroactively legitimize the construction. The rest is on open land.

The land designated as belonging to the state includes territory where nine outposts have been established, including three satellite outposts of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa.

In some cases, the location of the approved plots of land indicates plans for future construction, as with a former military base in Adorayim in the southern Hebron Hills. If Israel wanted to temporarily reclaim the land for military purposes, it is authorized to do so without confirming it as state land.

The state declared nearly 1 million dunams to be state land in the 1980s, after the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to seize land for stated military purposes and build settlements on that land. More than 99 percent of that land was allocated to settlements, but not all the land designations were accurate. As a result, each land claim – which is marked off with a blue line on the map, hence the Blue Line task force – is being reexamined.

Unless it has gone through the reexamination process and has been confirmed as state land, Israeli agencies cannot authorize development plans for the land, submit development plans or move forward on evacuation plans. This means that all new settlement construction plans must first be examined by the task force. Settlement leaders often complain that this practice places obstacles in the path of settlement construction.

The Blue Line task force first examines the status of land at the center of legal wrangling. It then examines other contested land, and then settlement blocs and educational institutions.